There has been a bit of a shakeup on my “Ten Favorte Actresses List,” in a few ways…
1. While Padmini still remains in the number 1 spot (not about to topple), second place now belongs to Meena Kumari. I looked at a lot of Meena Kumari stuff this past week, mainly as a sort of observance of her death anniversary, and my admiration for her has increased. I wasn’t a big Meena fan at the beginning of my Indian film obsession; the turning point came when I saw Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam a few months ago and was overwhelmed by her outstanding performance in that. I wouldn’t exactly consider myself an expert on movie acting abilities, but as my Indian film obsession has matured, I have gotten to appreciate various qualities of acting more, apart from and in addition to the dancing that I’ve loved from the start. So, even though Meena wasn’t the greatest dancer (though she wasn’t all that bad back in the ’50s) and even if she did have to use a playback dancer in Pakeezah, I’ve come to realize that her acting performances were amazing. It was quite amazing, for example, how much she could convey just with the expressions on her face (and yes, I think she was beautiful too).
Some people out there have been critical of Meena’s character – that she basically drank herself to death, wallowed in misery, etc. Now, in response to that sort of criticism, the first thing I have to say is, I think we should all try to keep thoughts or assumptions about someone’s off-screen life somewhat separate from our assessment of the performance; at least that’s what I try to do. But with regard to these criticisms anyway… Well, I can say that as someone who drinks rarely to never, I don’t really understand alcoholics too well (though I certainly know a few), but there are other character traits that probably turn me off much more. And especially if the tendency results in an inward destructiveness (rather than, say, becoming violent or extremely annoying), it’s really a condition that should make any witnesses to it feel bad for a person rather than critical. Meanwhile, I certainly wouldn’t blame Meena for her sorrow. I’m not the type to criticize someone for “wallowing” in sorrow; I understand all too well what it’s like not to be able to cope with life’s hardships (at least sometimes), whatever they might be. But when Meena brought that sorrow into her acting, she did it very well. Understanding that she did some great acting in lighter roles also, it’s clear to me why she was called the “Tragedy Queen.” So, all the more credit to Meena for conveying her terrible sorrow so well through such wonderful acting! On the screen at least, Meena lives.
2. That, of course, makes Vyjayanthimala number 3. Sorry, Vyjayanthi, you still are very high on my list, even though I’m not really crazy about some of the ’60s movies that you starred in (which I tried to watch recently). Of course, keeping in mind that one’s opinion of an actor, actress or dancer should not be influenced much by knowledge of that person’s life outside of the performance(s), I will continue to put aside my thoughts about Vyjayanthimala’s misguided political endeavors and the narcisissism that more than a few people talk about. (By the way, I should add that I’ve probably seen Vyjayanthimala in more movies than I’ve seen any other actress or actor. So, the slide from #2 to #3 could be the product of some Vyjayanthimala burnout on my part as well.)
3. There’s a new addition, at number 6 – Shyama. Oh my God, this woman was gorgeous back in the day! I think she actually did the best acting job in Barsaat Ki Raat (though Madhubala (my #4) also did a fine job too and was just as gorgeous). I also found her to be a wonderful villain in Bhai-Bhai. And there have been many clips that I’ve loved to watch her in…such as this one, which I’m lifting shamelessly after seeing it at Atul’s Bollywood Song A Day just a few hours ago:
By the way, just love the music by O.P. Nayyar too (and those vocals by Geeta Dutt). Speaking of Shyama and O.P. Nayyar, I’ve also been meaning to watch Aar Paar at Tommydan1’s Veoh page, but my Veoh player stopped working after I updated it (at their request) and I haven’t had the energy to delete it and replace it or try some other way of fixing the problem, especially since my computer has been a bit temperamental with big downloads lately. Oh, well.
My other changes in this list have been a little more minor… I’ve dropped Asha Parekh, but as I’ve said, I am thinking about one day writing up a list with a focus that extends a little later – into the ’70s – and Asha will be on that, along with Jaya Bachchan (and maybe Hema Malini, though my enthusiasm for her has waned somewhat).
Of course, this list, like others on my “Filmi Favorites” page, shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But to be honest, I do spend much more time than I should thinking about matters like this. Frankly, it’s a very nice distraction from many unpleasant things going on in my own life. (I suppose it’s better than going to the bar and drinking, right?)
I also know that I should be giving more attention to the male actors and even the male dancers. Some old lefty political acquaintances might accuse me of indulging too much in the “male gaze” with my focus on the actresses, objectifying and so forth. But on the other hand, in my little world of Bolly blogging, I’ve noticed that most of the bloggers are female, and some of them can go on about their favorite male actors endlessly, sometimes even in rather objectifying ways. (“Eye candy”?!) So, I’m not going to worry too much about indluging in my own perspective here.
P.S. 4/19 – I’ve been changing the order of items on my favorites lists a little more here and there, trying to reflect my present feelings as much as possible. “Favorites” is, of course, different from the universal “best,” and I’ve never been comfortable asserting an opinion about what is best in general – I was not even comfortable doing that when I functioned in the capacity of a pop music critic for a few magainzes some years ago. I remain ambivalent about the usefulness of ranking people in such lists, but it also is a fun way to pass the time, share my enthusiasms, and possibly introduce some people here and there to some greatness(es) that they might yet not be aware of.